I always have the strong urge to say that I was born on a dark and stormy night even though, while it was definitely dark in the middle of the night, I have no evidence that it was storming. Maybe it is because of the storm that I know was brewing beneath the surface.
What I do know is that my mother and father met in Germany while my dad was enlisted in the army and my mother was under the thumb of her father who was on assignment with the state department. It was a not a typical story of two young people falling for each other but fall they did. I think my father loved my mother but I am not so sure how my mother felt. It was a situation which would quickly unravel into chaos and heartbreak after my birth.
When I look at pictures of my parents back then- they embody the essence of the 70’s with their unruly hair, hippie clothes, and wiry & tan bodies. They were young, attractive, and both incredibly talented. My father aspired to be a writer and work in the medical field. My mother had a fierceness inside of her which she spilled into hauntingly beautiful drawings.
My grandma saved a handful of poetry, stories, and artwork from my parents which she later bestowed unto me. Sometimes I breathe in the musty smell of the paper and try to burn those images into my memory. I wonder what it would have been like to talk about life, art, and poetry with this version of them. I think we could have been great friends.
So, I was born on this August night. We lived in Ohio on several acres of land and were too far to make it to the hospital. The main house stood atop a large hill with a long, windy dirt driveway that seemed to be two miles long. There were large windows in the front living room which made the outside world look like a moving painting, and mint grew wild in a patch next to the house. I was to be born in the summer house on the other side of that patch.
“Summer house” sounds incredibly posh but in reality it was a simple structure next to a pool, which also sounds posh, but it had long been left to the elements and filled with all of the scraps and debris you would expect to find on a homestead. There was running water- and electricity thanks to some clever wiring which connected to the main house. Ingenuity at it’s finest.
My mother went into labor late into the night. She had no choice but natural labor, although knowing my mother I believe she would have chosen this regardless. She was 18 years old and bringing a life into this world. I like to think she felt really alive in that moment.
My father had medical experience and coached my mother through my birth. My uncle and grandma were there as well. I often imagine what the atmosphere was like in that tiny structure, in the middle of the woods on that hot summer night. They were so young- all of them.
I also suspect there was some drinking involved, both celebratory and secretly. A couple years ago, we marked the 32nd anniversary of my grandma’s sobriety- right before my 33rd birthday. I came to this realization while talking to her on the phone, laughed out loud, and called her out on it.
Times were different back then and my grandma was going through her own living hell. In fact, I felt a deeper love for her. Despite everything she has been through, she has always gifted those around her with undivided attention and love. I feel special knowing that I was the first granddaughter, born directly on the family property, and that she was there to welcome me.
That being said, it was probably a good thing that my uncle cut my umbilical cord. For the record, he is a bad ass and the funniest person I know. He had also been responsible for documenting my birth by taking a flurry of pictures. I would find the album during my teenage years and look at it in embarrassment and wonder. It is weird to see yourself at the exact moment you enter the world. A meta experience.
My grandma did give me my first bath. She held me in her arms and then washed me in the kitchen sink before handing me to my mother. I have a beautiful message she left me describing the whole event and I swear that I will never erase it.
That is how I came into this world. Naturally and into the arms of my family. The surprise was that I was not a boy- my mother’s belly had been swollen in the front and hung low. But this at home predictor failed and they had to come up with an alternative name to Michael. By the time they registered me with the county, they had chosen the name Melissa but no middle name. My mother always said that left me the option to chose my own, yet I never have. It has given me the freedom to acquire the best nicknames over the years from the ones who have loved me the most.
Till next time,
mel, melaylay, mellie, melmay, mzmel